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posted: 11/15/2013 2:25 PM

Navigating green on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers

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  • Raymond Christe of Crystal Lake, left, and Larry Kozak of Algonquin make the inaugural ride on their CalypSol Trimaran on the lake of Crystal Lake.

    Raymond Christe of Crystal Lake, left, and Larry Kozak of Algonquin make the inaugural ride on their CalypSol Trimaran on the lake of Crystal Lake.
    Courtesy of Raymond Christe

  • CalypSol is moored on the beach at Marquette Island near Cape Girardeau, Mo.

    CalypSol is moored on the beach at Marquette Island near Cape Girardeau, Mo.
    Courtesy of Raymond Christe

By CalypSol Group

Building a boat and taking it on a voyage is a dream few will realize. But two Fox Valley engineers are already making it happen with their two-passenger canoe dubbed CalypSol.

In May 2014, the CalypSol crew will conclude its long voyage of adventure on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers by taking its solar powered canoe from Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans.

It will be the third leg of a 1,300-nautical-mile solar canoe challenge, which started in Chicago in 2012 and ended up at the Mud Island Marina in Memphis in July 2013.

The eco-friendly craft is a high-tech solar-powered boat designed and built entirely by the CalypSol Group. They are a team of self-motivated engineers who came together to promote the use of renewable sources of energy and advocate a clean environment. Their motto is: "To navigate green, navigate CalypSol."

The CalypSol Group was founded by two longtime engineers, Raymond Christe of Crystal Lake and Larry Kozak of Algonquin. Friends for decades, these two men are realizing a long-held dream, born out in this special project.

"This is a really an exciting adventure, and an important one too," Christe said. "We will be the first navigators to go down what has come to be known as the French Waterway Corridor in this type of solar powered canoe. It is important to help pioneer and promote this modern-day technology."

Christe is an electrical engineer from Switzerland. The two-passenger canoe is unusual in that it is a high tech solar-powered 22-foot Trimaran custom built, with two outriggers for supporting the solar panels and providing high stability for the canoe and its passengers.

The construction of the boat required more than 1,000 hours of combined design engineering and fabrication. The selection of the material and components was carefully reviewed with professional boat builders.

For safety purposes, the boat has several backup systems. There are two sets of solar panels which independently charge two batteries.

Christe created a crank mechanism that positions the solar panels into the sun optimizing the charging of the ion-lithium batteries and also a special sundial that provides the best angle to position the solar panels.

Instrumentation on board includes a Depth Finder, GPS, Netbook, energy monitoring controllers, weather radio and cellular phones. During their voyage, the mariners camp overnight on the river islands or banks, with an occasional night in a motel. The boat is equipped with a cooler to store beverages and a pantry for food purchased along the way from cities and towns.

The first leg of the voyage took the mariners from the outskirts of Chicago, from the Summit Boat Club to Grafton, Ill., on the Illinois River.

Near Cairo, Ill., high water levels on Mississippi created dangerous turbulences. One massive whirlpool cracked the transom support of the CalypSol electric motor. The crew had to wait several days for replacement parts to arrive on site.

Once repaired, the craft was ready to sail again. However, thunderstorms turned the campsite into a mud field. The Mississippi River swelled and stretches of the river were dotted with lumber and other elements.

The crew temporarily abandoned their boat and seek higher grounds. After walking through the flooded marsh lands, the crew reached a levy. A Missouri farmer took the crew to a local motel and helped retrieve the CalypSol from the river bank.

"These are real American people, people we don't hear enough about in the media, the hardworking people, the farmers, the townspeople and how they dedicated themselves to helping us," Christe said.

The third and final leg of the voyage which will start mid-May 2014 in Memphis and is expected to take four weeks. The craft has a maximum speed of about 8 knots, or 9 mph. CalypSol will make its historic entry to New Orleans on or around June 15, having completed 1,300 miles on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, relying solely on the sun for power.

For details on the craft, the builders or their journey, or to view video clips of the accomplished segments, visit

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